Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

On Moral Substance and Visual Obscurity in Policies and Practice of State Expansion

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

On Moral Substance and Visual Obscurity in Policies and Practice of State Expansion

Article excerpt

1 Angst

Something unusual and inconceivable was going on in the newly attached western borderland of the Soviet Union--the Kaliningrad Oblast--that our contemporary intelligibility fails to grasp. In the spring of 1946 the men from a newly established collective farm (kolkhoz) spontaneously, without the administration's permission, took off for Belarus. When interrogated by a military patrol they spoke about recent bombings of its capital city, Minsk: "Fifteen of our airplanes were shot down over there, while here we sleep tight at night and live in ignorance." They resolved to form a partisan troop, and marched eastward "to defend the Motherland" (the men were natives of Belarus). (1) In another kolkhoz, exactly the opposite occurred: the news had arrived that "Turkey, together with England and America, declared a war on the Soviet Union", but instead of taking up arms, male villagers gathered together and took off to the woods in fear of conscription, leaving fields and livestock to their female coworkers. (2)

The mood was no calmer in the province's capital city. Letters were sent to relatives of the volunteer settlers in other provinces, describing decapitations committed by Germans, as well as poisoning and arson. Nightmares of collective imagination were echoed in internal memos that circulated between different departments of the local government. Secretary of the Regional Party Committee Ivanov--in his letter to Stalin--wrote about the remaining local population as "extremely aggressive people". He continued: "Espionage, sabotage, anti-Soviet propaganda, the spread of rumors and the use in it of religious superstitions--these are the main acts of the enemy Germans here." (3) Heads of kolkhozes and industrial enterprises pleaded for more information from departments of propaganda and ideological work, asking for an intensification of the communication about the Soviet government's intentions regarding the territory and the goals for its resettlement (zaselenie). In the city of Pensa the chief inspector of the recruitment department for relocation to Konigsberg made a characteristic statement:

"The resolution of the Council of Ministers [about the repopulation of Kaliningrad Oblast] has not been fulfilled. Instead of 700 families, only 339 relocated. The reasons: a misunderstanding of the guiding principle of volunteering in the repopulation campaign, the equation of volunteering with spontaneity, the forgetting that volunteering is a result of extensive explanation, of the organizational work--the very work many Committee chairs have not been conducting." (4)

Much can be learned from this quote. For example, volunteering is not always an act of free will enacted from outside the bonds of loyalty and obligation; it can be antithetical to emotional spontaneity of the disorganized multitude. What I take from the quote in this paper, however, is the phrase "extensive explanation". What kind of sociopolitical intervention does it represent? What role did this explanation play in the emergent sociology and geography of the region?

In this paper I set my distinctly microscopic lens on the period of the incorporation of the former East Prussia into the Soviet Union after World War 2. Characterized by repossession, displacement, uprooting, ethnic intermixing, and institutional remaking, Kaliningrad Oblast (as the region has been known since its renaming in August 1946) was a place of an intensely generative process. The events occurring between the years 1943 and 1945, with the victorious conclusion of World War 2, led the Soviet Union into a position of direct political-administrative control and responsibility in the annexed East Prussia. This opened a chapter in the making of a world that was radically different. Nearly 110 000 German-speaking natives of the area were removed and replaced with settlers from the Soviet Union. This move set in motion people, ideas, identities, and artifacts, reconstituting, hybridizing, or separating them anew. …

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